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IELTS Listening Test- Understanding the Details of the Format to Score High

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The IELT test assesses the ability and efficiency of a candidate in all forms of the English languages which need the highest level of accuracy in performance. The IELTS listening test is the same for both the formats of the IELTS i.e.,  1) The IELTS Academic test,  2) The IELTS General Training test. When it comes to ‘Listening Test’ its’ really tough for a candidate to understand ‘Recorded conversations of native-English speakers’. Especially a candidate from Non-English speaking country feels the heat and if a candidate comes from a non-English medium schooling background the listening test is even more tough, provided he/she is not prepared properly for the test. While talking about preparation, understanding the format of test clearly is very important.

The ‘IELTS Listening Test’ is continued for 30 minutes and the candidate requires to listen to four audios. The audios are ‘Recorded Version of conversations of native speakers. After listening to the audios the candidate needs to write the answers to the set of 40 questions carrying one marks each. How are the audios?

  • Audio 1 – This is a conversation between two native English speakers and the conversation is nothing special but an everyday social facts or circumstances that surround a situation or a problem.
  • Audio 2 – This is absolutely monologue of a native speaker speaking about some local facilities or so.
  • Audio 3 –  This one is a bit complicated as this recorded audio includes a conversation among 3 to 4 persons discussing on some educational or training topics, for instance, a university lecturer discussing on an assignment with his student.
  • Audio 4 – This audio is typically a lecture of a university lecturer, i.e. another monologue.Assessment of the candidate’s capability of ‘Understanding the main or the central ideas’ is made through his answers. Also evaluated, how the candidate is being able to capture the theme of the detailed information and how he is grasping the ‘Opinions of the speakers’ in the audios. We are now presenting the IELTS Listening test’s formats and descriptions in a simple tabular form:
Listening Paper Format In the Listening Test, there is a total of 4 sections, each section contains 10 questions of carrying one marks. The questions are set in such an order that follow the sequence of the audios played.

What types of audios are played in which sections is mentioned Audio 1, Audio 2.. and so on. The candidates need to remember that the audios are played only once, so they have to be fully focused while the audios are played. The audios include different accents, mainly the ‘British’, American’, ‘Australian’, ‘ Canadian’ and the accents of the ‘New Zealander’s’.

Time Allotted The allotted time is approximately 30 minutes with an additional 10 minutes time to transfer the answer to the ‘Answer Sheet’.
Total No. of Questions There are 10 questions in each section, so there are 40 questions in total in the four sections as a whole.
Types of Tasks The questions are usually of different types. Multiple choice questions, headline matching, planning/labeling, sentence completions, summary completion and so on
How to answer The candidates should write their answers on the question papers using a pencil while listening to the audios. After all the audios are played the candidates are given 10 minutes transfer time to transfer their answers on the given ‘Answer Sheet’. Any attempt to write the answer on the answer sheet, while listening to the audios, would incur trouble for a candidate. Grammatical mistakes, spelling mistakes and wrong construction of sentences are penalized. So a candidate has to be extremely careful while ‘Transferring the answers’ on the answer sheet.
How are the

Marks Given

As already mentioned there are 40 questions carrying 1 marks each, a candidate would get as many marks as 1 Each right answer gets 1 mark, i.e. if a candidate gives 33 right answers he’ll get 33 marks.

We are going for a detailed discussion of the test formats to make a candidate aware of each and every minute details of the test: There would be different types questions, that a candidate needs to answer:

Type 1 – Multiple Choice Questions:

Format and Task type In the case of multiple choice questions, there would be given three possible answers, one of them would be the right answer naturally. Sometimes beginning of a sentence would be left incomplete and three ‘possible answers’ would be given, the candidate has to pick up the right one from options given like: A / B / C. For the questions like ‘sentence completion’, sometimes more than one options are asked to pick up. A well-prepared candidate wouldn’t be facing any problem in such cases, but reading the questions minutely and understanding correctly is very important.
Focus on Task For answering all questions rightly ‘Understanding the central idea’ is a must. Candidates should be especially skilled in answering the ‘Multiple Choice Questions’. One point, candidates should be aware of that understanding each and every word of the audios is not needed. Often native speakers are found to be baffle of understanding each word of the audios. Understanding the ‘Keywords’ are what, that matters. That’s why candidates are suggested to read the questions minutely before the audios are played.

Type 2- Headline Matching

Format and Task type Candidates are required to ‘Match headlines’.  For performing accurately the candidates should be a ‘Sharp Listener’, any loss of concentration might lose marks.
Focus on Task Through matching of headlines, the skill of the candidates in listening and understanding is assessed perfectly. Also assessed is whether the candidate is understanding the links between the sentences used in the conversation or not.

Type 3 –  Diagram labeling,  Complete labels of plan etc.

Format and Task type The candidates are required to perform some tasks like completing a label or a diagram or a plan. The answers would have to select usually from a list given on the question paper.
Focus on Task Particularly in this type of test, the candidate’s eligibility to understand a conversation or a description and thereby represent it visually is assessed by the authority.

Type 4 – Summary completion,  Gap Filling etc.

Format and Task type The candidates are needed to fill in the gaps of a portion of the text heard in the audio. They might have to choose their answer from a list given, or might have to identify a missing word which was in the audio. The number of words to ‘Fill the Gap’ may vary, so any instructions like word limit in answering should be followed strictly and the candidates won’t have to change the words what they heard in the audio by any means. Using more words or less in answering is penalized.
Focus of Task This types of questions mainly test the focus of the listener and his ability to adhere to the instructions.

Type 5 – Sentence completion

Format  and Task Type In the case of this test, the questions are like completing some sentences which are left incomplete with a gap and the candidate would have to fill it with ‘the actual word from the audio’. Instructions like ‘Not more than three words’ are given, which are to strictly to be followed by the candidate. Contractions like: Don’t, won’t – are not allowed and any hyphenated word would be counted as a single word.
Focus of Task Accuracy in completion of sentences on the expertise of the candidate in identifying the key information in the listening test. The candidates should understand the functional relationships between words as well.

Type 6 – Short-Answer Type Questions

Format and Task type Read the question and answer it – this would be the type of short answer type questions. Always there would word limit given like – ‘Not more than two words’. Instructions given should always to be followed. Mistakes in spelling is an offense.
Focus of Task Short answer type questions always test candidate’s concentration and the keenness to figure out the concrete facts, like time, value, the name of a place etc. in the audios.


To score high in the IELTS Listening test, a candidate should take extreme caution and should adhere to some important points like:

  • If a candidate cannot hear the audio clearly, he should report it immediately.
  • A candidate should follow every bit of the instructions very carefully. Very often candidates have seen to assume, that they know the instructions as they are familiar with the type o question papers but it may incur trouble because not necessarily, the instructions given are the same as other years.
  • Every audio bears some specific information. So, even a minor loss in concentration might cause a major difference in score.
  • A candidate should not panic if he misses a word or two, rather he should concentrate on listening to the rest.
  • If a candidate doesn’t know the answer to a particular question, without wasting time he should move to answer the next.
  • Extreme caution should be taken towards the accuracy of spelling and grammar.
  • Any candidate with good preparation for the test should not get tensed or panic if he feels the topic is too difficult or the speakers are too fast to understand, rather pacify himself thinking that all the other candidates are facing the same problem. Therefore the outcome would be more or less same with all.
  • During the listening test, a candidate has to listen, read and write at the same time.
  • A candidate should keep in mind that the listening test is an ultimate test of concentration. So, the focus cannot be shifted from what he is asked to do in the completion type questions.
  • Often candidates overlook the word limit instructions, its’ a penal offense. Just for example, if a candidate is asked to complete a sentence using ‘Not more than two words’. And the correct answer is ‘Wooden table’- the candidate overlooks the information and writes – ‘Table made of wood’- Incorrect Answer, No Marks at all.
  • Thus if a question asks to complete the sentence ‘In the ……..’, and the right answer is ‘Evening’- Writing ‘In the evening’ would be considered incorrect. The right answer is ‘evening’.
  • If a candidate is not fully sure of the answer that comes in his mind, no reason to leave it unanswered. He should write the answer, as there is no negative marking.
  • A last but very important suggestion to all – A candidate should always double-check his answer. Because just 1 mark might matter a lower band score.

The IELTS Listening test is definitely tough for any candidate, but calling it too tough to qualify is not justified. It’s worthy to be mentioned that all the formats of the ‘IELTS’ tests are designed very scientifically with a genuine purpose to judge a candidate’s proficiency in English. Whether a candidate is a native speaker or a non-native one, he/she has to be prepared well for the test. No one should take it with an approach, ‘Its’ just another test’, rather each and every candidate should be well prepared and thoroughly aware of the format and the structure of the test. Regardless of the country, a candidate belongs to and regardless of ‘his/her’ mother tongue, preparation is the key to success. Considering the high standard of the test, initially, candidates from the non-English speaking country might feel it a bit too tough. Such a candidate should train himself under a ‘Well reputed and genuinely good coaching center’ or take help of a ‘Good English teacher’, experienced in teaching students for the ‘IELTS’. So, getting proper help and expert guidance would enable a candidate from any country to steer clear the test.

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